COLUMN: March 21, 2013

HAVING wheezed through the worst of the winter, my boiler finally decided enough was enough, and collapsed, like Devon Loch, last Friday.

We discovered it was weeping, a steady drip running from somewhere in its mysterious innards. And soon, so was I. Because I knew it meant I was going to have to get a man in.

It is bad enough, as I have documented painfully recently, having to take an item of machinery to a man to have it fixed, but so much worse to have one visit.

On Saturday, I bit the bullet. I’d had to empty the water from the big red Celebrations tin twice during the night, and it was increasingly clear that the boiler was not going spontaneously to mend itself.

Also, while the heating was still chugging away, we had lost our hot water. I don’t mind cold water. It is very useful, for example, when preparing a glass of lemon squash, or if I need something to take with a headache pill.

What I do not like is unexpectedly cold water. I am not one of these people who wakes up early on Boxing Day and thinks: “Thank flip that’s all over. I’ve had enough of warmth, being able to feel my extremities, and having testicles on the outside. I’m jumping in the sea with a load of ugly men in Speedos.”

So when I was made keenly and suddenly aware of the lack of hot water while I was in the shower, I decided to take action.

I phoned a helpline, not for the first time in my life. A patient woman answered. I explained my difficulty. She asked me if there were any children in the house – perhaps she thought they would be more articulate. I knocked a few years off their ages and said yes, and that they would need hot water, this being the early 21st century.

She outlined a choice of tariffs – one exorbitant, and one which would attach myself and my descendants for a thousand years to some sort of direct debit arrangement. I chose the former and an engineer was dispatched.

He arrived and looked at the boiler. “Have you had this cover off?” he asked. “Sort of,” I said, looking at my shoes.

He had a good look. It wasn’t difficult to see what was wrong. A jet of water was spraying out of a broken something.

“Yes,” he said, “Your something is broken. It’s very common.”

“Great, so you can fix it?” I asked.

“I don’t have the part,” he explained.

“But it’s very common?” I said.

“Yes,” he replied.

“But you don’t have the part,” I reiterated.

“No. I’ll be back on Monday,” he said, and with a “Hi-yo, Silver, away,” he swept out of the building like The Lone Ranger, only a Lone Ranger whose guns were coming on Monday, so I’d have to hole up in the abandoned silver mine and fight off the bandits single-handed for the rest of the weekend.

Three hundred and twenty-five kettles later, the engineer returned with the part, and the house took on That Atmosphere. That Atmosphere is the thing I like least about getting a man in.

I found myself, as always, virtually confined to my living room, uncomfortable in my own presence, not wanting to switch on the television. I didn’t want to walk around my house in case he thought I was either spying on him or some sort of house-wandering weirdo.

It’s the quiet, I think. Even the hammering and drilling – drilling, why is he drilling?! – cannot dispel that strange uneasiness when a workman is doing something in one’s house.

And I really wanted to go to the toilet, but I knew if I went he would need something from me at that moment, and I’d have to explain that I was using the toilet, and there would be an awkward moment when I came down the stairs, because he’d known I’d been to the toilet in my own house.

Then he called me. “Can I use your toilet?” he said. “Erm, yes,” I said. I pointed up the stairs. “It’s that one, there, with the toilet in…” He bounded off and conducted his business with the door open. Then he came back downstairs, apparently without washing his hands.

I was incensed. This was my house and that was incredibly unhygienic and disrespectful. I had to make a stand. I had to take back my own house.

And, so, emboldened, I switched on the television. That showed him.

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